Russian Sources on Jewish Agricultural Colonization

Comments in parentheses marked # or Editor's Note are those of this author Chaim Freedman

Translated and edited by Chaim Freedman: Our Father's House Supplement

The following passages from the Russian sources have been selected for the vivid picture they provide of life on the colonies.

The passages have been freely translated and where the Russian construction was difficult, the general meaning, derived from the context, has been précised. This free translation has been confirmed by comparison to the Hebrew work `Jewish Agriculturalists on the Russian Steppes' (Tel Aviv 1965) which is based largely on the same Russian sources.

Jewish Agriculturalists 1807- 1887

by Victor N.Nikitin, St.Petersburg 1887

translated by Chaim Freedman

(Editor's Note: The first three hundred pages deal with the historical background of Jewish agricultural colonization in Russia and the establishment and development of the colonies in Kherson Government from 1807 until 1846. Thereafter the Yekaterinoslav colonies are dealt with until 1887, together with parallel developments in the Kherson colonies. The passages quoted here refer, in the main, only to the Yekaterinoslav colonies since there was very little contact between the inhabitants of the two regions. Not only were they separated by a distance of some 300 kilometers, there were basic differences in their development. The Kherson colonies arose in response to oppressive government measures in the early nineteenth century to expel tens of thousands of Jews from the villages in northern Russia and divert them to agriculture. The Jews who settled on the Kherson colonies came mainly from the Governments of Vitebsk, Mogilev and Chernigov and there was a large proportion of Chassidim, particularly Lubavitch. The Yekaterinoslav colonists were mostly Misnagdim (opponents to the Chassidim) with a strong Lithuanian background. Those from Lutzin, whilst also located in Vitebsk Government, were of the Misnagdic element. The Yekaterinoslav settlers' decision to leave the north was based largely on the need to save their sons from conscription which threatened their survival as observant Jews.)

Page 300:

In 1846, it was reckoned that the applicants consisted of the following numbers of Jewish families per Government: Mogilev 83, Vitebsk 175, Courland 11, Kovno 41, and Kiev 14,altogether 324 families. A decree was proclaimed, a categorical order, but Kisselev soon realized how difficult it would be to find sufficient capital to cover this decree. In consequence he excluded certain numbers who were amongst the awaiting candidates, and there remained 285 families for whom Perov undertook to assign 50,000 rubles.

Vronchenko was requested to release on account of future Korobka funds (# the Jewish communal tax), in addition to the sum allocated from the government treasury, initially 15,000rubles. But this was not to be spared for the settlement and establishment of the Jews, such that Vronchenko failed to satisfy Kisselev.

Page 302:

In order to select the Jewish families who were to be settled in the Government of Yekaterinoslav, it was directed that certain principles be maintained. One elementary principle was that the families had not been located within 50 versts ( # one verst equals approximately one kilometer) of the border (# as such they were regarded as a security risk). Nor were there to be permitted those who had maintained inns (# considered to be a demoralizing influence on the Russian peasants). These conditions were not taken seriously in selecting the candidates. Whereas these principles were stated literally, it was not always possible to discover who had been of late an innkeeper, nor how many there were of these particular families. Therefore the directives were dispensed with so as not to waste time.

The organizers of the settlers selected in 1846, 285 families out of the total who desired particularly to go to Yekaterinoslav. These included from Salant 30, from Rassein11, from Mogilev and Orsha 83, from Polotsk 1, and from Lutzin 160, in all 285 out of the total of 324 candidate families. From the various regions the settlers were directed specifically to the city of Mogilev. From there the Vitebsk and Kovno Jews were due to be directed in parties which had to appear in Mogilev no later than the 15th of May. There, clerks of the ministry collected and assessed the ordinance supplies which were necessary for transportation from that place, including tents which were the property of the Governments of Vitebsk and Kovno. It was necessary to provide funds for the support of the Jews whilst they were waiting there. The directive was to allocate 3 koppeks per soul per day, but the poor and destitute had to be given more.

Pages 302 -311:

Kisselev directed Gan to set up houses and farms along the lines of the Kherson colonies, such that they would be ready for the 285 families by September 1st. The assessor Kuleshovwas ordered to send off the first party from Mogilev to Kiev and from Kiev to Yekaterinoslav.

The plan was, since it took 90-95 days to travel from Mogilev, they would travel in summer and arrive so that houses would be ready for winter. They were to be divided into parties of no more than fifty families, about 500 souls, with twenty wagons for the young. In total, 120 wagons with horses were brought to Mogilev from Tsarakonstantinovka for 24 rubles 77 koppeks each and 120 horses which cost 2973rubles. In total, a cost of 14,643 rubles.

When the first group of Vitebsk Jews was ten days out of Mogilev, there arose the problem of transportation for 200young between the ages of 1-12 and a large number of pregnant women and elderly since they had only 44 wagons. Kisselev appealed to the ministry for help but the finance was unavailable. (# Since the Vitebsk Jews were almost exclusively from the town of Lutzin, the above group may have included those families related to the Komisaruks: Zmood,Levin, Amiton, Ezeritz and Lev.)

Page 311:

( Editor's Note: The following appears to be a description of the migration of the group from Rassein, eleven families, who were the first settlers in Grafskoy. It is of particular interest as it provides a vivid picture of the conditions suffered en-route by the Komisaruk family.)

An inspector of forests, Major-General Tagaychinov, who was on his way from his duties in the Government of Vitebsk, came across a party which was traveling to the Government of Yekaterinoslav (# presumably after leaving Mogilev), comprising eleven families. Upon inspection he found "that they were unaccustomed to continuous walking, many were feeble in the feet. For 29 young children,3 nursing women and 3 pregnant women there were available only 9 horses and carts which had to carry all their belongings as well." He provided three more wagons at his own expense, as he reported to Kisselev, to relieve their suffering. Kisselev wrote in his report: "Perhaps the number of wagons should be reviewed on account of the itinerant expenditure." But the resolution was not considered and there were no consequences, such that the Jews were given to understand that despite the decree for fair regulations to function, there was however no spirit to modify their plight.

Page 362:

In 1846, it was planned to settle in Yekaterinoslav sevensections on 24,050 desyatins (# one desyatin = 2.7 acres or 10 dunams = one hectare). But meanwhile six sections were setup consisting of 15,342 desyatins whilst later another twelve were to be established on 22,224 desyatins. (# The seventh colony whose establishment was delayed was Grafskoy as explained above).

In 1846 Kisselev's report covered the 285 families. In 1847 they were divided into six colonies which at that stage bore German names: Gross-Lutzin, Guttgedanken, Gluckstahl, Mitteldorf, Filgnode, and Kronberg. However they were to be renamed by translating these names into Russian: Lutzinskago,Dobromislovkoya, Blagopolyuchnoya, Sredneyu, Milostivoyu, and Koronoyu. But Kisselev insisted on completely new Russiannames: Novi Zlatopol, Veselaya, Krasnoselka, Mezhirech, Trudoliubovka and Nechaevka.

(Editor's Note: These colonies were known throughout their existence to the Jews under other names. Novozlatopol, being the first colony was called Pervernumer; Mezhirech, the fouth was Ferternumer. Others were known by names which may indicate the identity of the original German supervisor who was set over the Jewish farmers in the early days: Trudoliubovka was Engels, Nechaevka was Peness, and a later colony Zatishye wasBakhers. One `nickname' indicated the place of origin of the settlers: Nadezhnaya was called Der Vilner. In Trudoliubovka settled the Namakshtansky family, a member of which married the daughter of Rabbi PINKHAS Komisaruk; in Nechaevka settled the Gordon family; in Novozlatopol the families Zmood, Levin, Ezeritz, Amiton and Lev. Sladkovodnaya, called after the adjacent village Kobilnye, was established between 1852 and 1855. Its settlers included the families Pogorelsky and Vinnikoffsky.)

Thus in the census of 1848 six colonies had been established and bread had been harvested. However only 192 houses had been built on these colonies.

Page 387 :

In order to provide an inventory which will provide information on the way of life, the following is a description of the colonies:

Page 388 :

According to the committee reports of 1848 the colonists were organized in villages Prikazs (# commands):

a )In Yekaterinoslav there were six Prikazs with five non village Nachalniks (# headmen). They received a grant of 1083 rubles 33۫   koppeks.

b) In Kherson there were 13 Prikazs with four village Nachalniks which were granted 1110 rubles.

The Nachalniks were German colonists and were reimbursed from revenue which was designated for the Jews' freehold land. In the colonies according to the audit there were the following number of souls:

a) In Yekaterinoslav: Novozlatopol 717, Krasnoselka 356,Mezhirech 339, Veselaya 299, Trudoliubovka 216, and Nechaevka 137. All together there were 2064 souls.

b) In Kherson: Bolshoy Sdemenukha 810, Bobrovoy Kut 796,Novopoltavka 603, Inguletz 541, Romanovka 456, Lvov 430, Efengar 4)8, Bolshoy Nagartov 403, Izrailovka 360, NovoBerislave 356, Kamyanika 341, Izluchisloy 249, Maloy Nagartov 144, Maloy Sdemenukha 121, Gagaydak 58. All together 6076souls. (# The spelling of some of the names is at variance with the correct form).

In both governments there were 8140 souls.

Pages 389-391:

(Editor's Note: covers the problems of establishing houses between 1846 1849, the funds which were allocated, various reports and the system of administration.) 10 rubles were to be paid per farm for the erection of a stable.

Report of October 1849:

189 tents were supplied to the Jewish farmers. The committee reported: "the residences are unreliable, in the walls there are visible cracks and considerable damage has been taken into consideration for the coming winter. However temporary houses were unsuitable in such a situation where they were in danger of destruction. In 83 houses, due to the cold, the cement had come apart from the walls both internally and externally. In several there was no cement at all remaining in the tattered walls. In 29 houses the ovens had collapsed. In 18 the chimneys had crumbled. In 5 the chimneys had burnt and in others there were big clefts in the ceilings and walls.

Page 392:

In 1849 in the Kherson region the Minister was petitioned to allow the establishment of twenty-four families from Kovno Government for whom a number of tents were required. But it was necessary to borrow 170 rubles per family for their establishment. 20,000 rubles was assigned to the managing committee from the Odessa Korobka fund, on account of refunds from the Kovno Government authority. The Ministry received an unfavorable reply because, for some time, these families from the Kovno Government had been living there for more than three years. It was proposed: "the expenditure of establishing 24 families should be on account of funds from farming freeholds."

(Editor's Note: After considerable dispute regarding the source of finance, by 1850 26 houses were built on the Yekaterinoslav colonies for those families who originated in the Kovno Government and had been unsettled for a number of years in the Kherson region. As stated above, their absorption probably boosted the numbers of the Grafskoy settlers who also originated in Kovno Government.)

At the same time a group of Jewish agriculturalists in the Yekaterinoslav Government (# 148 people) presented an address to Kisselev in order to bring to his attention their lamentable conditions of cold, disease, deaths of children and collapse of houses.

Page 394 :

In his report to the committee Stempel confirmed the need for reform in order to relieve the suffering of the people who were taken ill by scurvy. Out of 1709 people it had been reported that 354 has died. But actually 334 died in three colonies where they were housed in tents and only 20 died in the remaining three colonies. The report to the colonial department stated that "medicine was hardly of help in the cold and wet cottages as it might have been had they been living in dry and warm houses. The lists and numbers of the sick and deceased from January 1st to July 1st 1849 were published:

Page 397:

(Editor's Note:  Reports of epidemics in 1848 and 1849 of cholera and scurvy, cattle murrain, and unfruitful wheat. Compensation was paid from the agricultural funds.)

Page 420:

(Editor's Note:  Criticism was directed against the influence of the Jewish religion , the Melamdim, the effect of time taken off work due to the Jewish Holydays, and the restrictions on work due to the role of the Jewish woman).

The report of Islavan in 1847 showed that on the 25 colonies there were the following number of Kheders (# religious primary schools):

In Kherson - 69.

In Yekaterinoslav - 37.

In total - 106.

(Editor's Note:  The settlers' concern for the provision of Jewish education for their children can be gauged from the fact that 37 Kheders were established on the six Yekaterinoslav colonies in the first year after arrival, despite the lack of proper housing, disease and the general unsettled conditions.)

The number of synagogues and prayer houses:

Kherson - 21.

Yekaterinoslav - 3.

Rabbis and butchers received a salary from the association on a yearly basis. In the Kherson colonies 1380 rubles 13 koppeks; in the Yekaterinoslav colonies, one rabbi 203 rubles.(# As previously explained, this one rabbi was RabbiShlomo Zalmen Komisaruk).

In the Yekaterinoslav colonies the butchers were paid on contract from the association for each instance: for a fowl 2koppeks; for a small cow 15 koppeks; for a large cow 20-25 koppeks. (# This information is of interest particularly since the first settlers included the Zmood and Pogorelsky families who were butchers. Likewise Rabbi Pinkhas Komisaruk functioned as Shokhet in Grafskoy.)

The number of Melamdim: Kherson - 8; Yekaterinoslav - 10. They were paid by the parents.


Page 474:

Report of Rudnitsky - 1859:

With regard to the Yekaterinoslav colonies Grafskoy, Krasnoselka, Trudoliubovka, Nechaevka, Novozlatopol, Veselaya, and Mezhirech, Rudnitsky stated: "The general appearance was exceedingly good, the best houses were constructed correctly from durable material, the courtyards were like town yards and had trees. Several houses had stables. In the colony Grafskoy the houses were of stone, but because of the great cost the Jews were not prepared to continue building corresponding houses on the remaining farms."

Page 476:

In 1859, the number of official souls on the Yekaterinoslav colonies was 5090 men and 4433 women.

In 1860, the population stood at 5100 men and 4452 women.

In that year 197 men and 247 women were married. 37 men and 27 women died.

The number of German colonists on Jewish colonies was 60.

The number of orphans was 2. There were no beggars, homeless or lame (unlike the Kherson colonies).

In the Kherson region there were 6 synagogues and 26 Batei Midrash.

 In Yekaterinoslav there were 2 Batei Midrash.

In Kherson there were 13 rabbis and 13 Khazanim.

In Yekaterinoslav there was one rabbi and one Khazan to serve10,072 souls.

 (Editor's Note:  At this period the only rabbi on the Yekaterinoslav colonies was Rabbi Pinkhas Komisaruk and the only Khazan was David-Moshe Bruser. This confirms traditions held by both families about the leadership roles of both men and the close association between them. Their's was an immense task to serve the needs of so many thousands of people until other rabbis arrived.)

Page 537:

In the Kherson colonies the rabbis Zusman, Kheyvitz and Vunder were decorated with gold medals for useful activity. A farmer, Mark Bograd was awarded 400 rubles for praiseworthy sacrifice in helping the Nagartov sick.

The ministry granted 5800 rubles for construction including prayer houses in the colonies Novozlatopol, Priyutnaya,Roskoshnaya, Bogodarovka, Gorkaya and Dobroy (# the latter in Kherson).

Page 546:

In 1851, Islavan recommended the establishment of a plantation of trees. In 1865,  2000 trees were planted in Grafskoy from which 50,000 saplings were produced.

In 1851 the number of Nakalniks was as follows:

Kherson - 13 (for 20 colonies).

Yekaterinoslav - 3 (for 17 colonies) (# an error as there were only seven at the time).

In 1865, the population of the Yekaterinoslav colonies was 5941 men and 5230 women.

Page 563 :


Synagogues and Prayer Houses

Kherson government: 6 synagogues and 26 prayer houses

Yekaterinoslav:  12 prayerhouses. During the course of the year one more prayer house was established in each government.

Rabbis and Laymen

Kherson: - 13 rabbis and 32 laymen (one layman for 641 people and one rabbi for 1577).

Yekaterinoslav: - two rabbis and one layman (one layman for11,379 souls and one rabbi for 5689).


Kherson: 113 qualified Melamdim and 1005 apprentices. They received their wages from the parents on contract.

Yekaterinoslav: two qualified Melamdim and 196 apprentices under the supervision of the local rabbi. Aside from this, the parents taught the children themselves.

Page 583:

On the 22nd of February 1869,  there was a severe storm in Grafskoy which destroyed the communal store. Half of the steel roof was damaged, so much so that it was decided that anew one was necessary. The ministry was of divided opinions but the regional committee considered the colonists to be destitute and released 200 rubles for the repair of the roof from the revenue of the reserves of the colony's communal plot.

Page 618:

Further attempts were made to reduce the influence of the rabbis and Talmudic study. It was hoped that modern rabbis trained in the Vilna Rabbinical College would introduce a modern approach to education, but they had little influence. Particularly deplored was the existence of a full scale Yeshiva in the Kherson colony Romanovka. (# another Yeshiva later functioned in the Yekaterinoslav colony Zatishye (Bakhers) as mentioned by Yehuda-Leib (Louis) Komesaroff of Melbourne who studied there for a brief period during his childhood).

Page 618:

The Klaus Report:

In 1859, wells were dug in the Kherson colonies Dobroy and Novopoltavka at a cost of 1200 rubles. In the Yekaterinoslav colonies use was made of good quality water which was available in nine colonies. In Grafskoy there was one well, water from which was saturated with minerals, such that it was only used by less well- off farmers. The other better-off farmers got water from the German colony Marenfeld.

Novozlatopol, Trudoliubovka and Nechaevka remained altogether without water suitable for human consumption. They obtained their water from neighboring villages, at a distance of from 3-7 versts. In Veselaya the water was fit only when the weather was cool since it became bitter if left for too long in vessels. Krasnoselka had to go for water for stock to a dam but there was not one close to the colony and every year they sought how to find a closer place to take the stock rather than have to stay overnight. (# See Rokhel Luban's memoirs regarding her father bringing water to Trudoliubovka from the village of Heitsur).

In general Klaus compared the achievements of the Jews favorably with the Germans and the Bulgarians who had the advantage of more land.

Pages 628-9:

In 1868, fires damaged several colonies and funds had to be allocated to those made destitute.

In 1868, the community association of Grafskoy paid dues for three years. As a consequence of the failure of the crop yield and stock disease, the settlers sank into calamity and were unable to pay their arrears to the establishment fund of 1434 rubles. As a consequence they sought this sum as a loan without interest from the Capital Secular Fund for repayment over three years. The Ministry was satisfied with the request and viewed it with favor. It was witnessed by the committee that the situation was one of valid poverty as a result of crop failure and stock illness. The loan arrears were paid unconditionally.

Colony Krasnoselka drew from the Peasant Fund in the years1848-1850 the sum of 3527 rubles to establish the colony and build the houses. Also 2000 rubles were allocated for a store for that colony and likewise 2680 rubles for Mezhirech. The same committee attested the distress of the colonists when their synagogue (constructed in 1861) was threatened with destruction. The cost of 1075 rubles was augmented from the Secular Fund.

Colony Nechaevka likewise requested 1000 rubles for a synagogue but there was a scarcity of funds in the Secular Fund due to that colony of 800 rubles. Also the colony owed 2450 rubles towards the construction of the store for both Nechaevka and Trudoliubovka and therefore the Minister refused the grant.

The colonists had been granted 40 desyatins: 30 for personal ownership and 10 on lease, from which funds were collected for the Secular Fund. Between 1867 and 1872 the Alexandrovsk district collected 2871 rubles.

Pages 631- 633:

The Bartholemew Report of 1872

Each Jewish Arendar (# Lessee as distinct from the original settlers) paid 1 ruble 50 koppeks per year per desyatin. In Zelenoepole and Trudoliubovka where there were German colonists there were favorable effects on the Jewish colonists who were trained in agricultural labor and the German conditions influenced their way of life.

Far less progress in the sphere of national culture was made in the Yekaterinoslav colonies than in the Kherson colonies. In the former there were absolutely no Russian schools. In the Kheders, Talmudic instruction was taught by the Melameds uncontrolled by any regulations, for instance in Grafskoy, Nechaevka and the neighbourhood.

The terrible murrain of stock late in 1872 left perished animals heaped close to the houses and at the rear of the yards. Not only did the Nachalnik refrain from inspecting or exercising his authority, he was of little consequence to the Jews who regarded him merely as a trustee.

Page 640 :


Living in the Jewish colonies

73 Germans

Kherson:  16 rabbis and 38 laymen.

Yekaterinoslav:  5 rabbis and 16 laymen -

7246 men and 6352 women, a total of 13,598

The population of the Yekaterinoslav colonies (# in 1875) was (# probably the population peak).

Page 644:

In 1870, loans were granted totaling 6898 rubles to cover stock losses and store construction in the colonies Zatishye, Nadezhnaya, Khlebodarovka, Sladkovodnaya, Grafskoy, Rovnopol and Zelenoepole.

Page 667:

In 1881, the question of reform of the colony administration was not accepted by the Ministry and the proposals were abandoned without explanation.

Meanwhile southern Russia became infamous for that sad occurrence, the Pogroms which were perpetrated in certain colonies. On May 6-8, 1881 the colonies Trudoliubovka, Nechaevka, Grafskoy and Mezhirech were subjected to plundering. The belongings of the colonists were carried off and the livestock was driven away. The Jew were dismayed and sought refuge with their families on the steppe. This was of no use and only provided temporary shelter. By the supplication of the women to the local authorities, the nobleman Count Pabelsky sheltered them at the manor house Stepanovka and others at the neighboring German colonies. But in the plundering of colony Trudoliubovka participated German colonists from Gottland and Kaiserdorf. Marenfeld colonists firstly sheltered the Jews and afterwards drove them out into the streets with their belongings which thus were plundered.

In evidence given to the local headman the pogroms were claimed "to have been precipitated by the Jews' own situation". The trustee of the colonies Count Kovalsky cared for the crowd, gave them provisions on his own account, and established a place for aid for the sick and the children. By law, in order to control the distribution of government property, the Shultzs (# clerks) purchased supplies and selected the colonists who were given bread in that month: Nechaevka 286 people, Trudoliubovka 383, Mezhirech 210, and Grafskoy 60. For the re-establishment of houses funds were allocated to the following numbers: Trudoliubovka 46, Nechaevka 31, Mezhirech 37. (# From the above figures it would appear that Grafskoy was effected by the pogrom to a relatively lesser extent.) 2250 rubles from insurance of houses was distributed to colonists specified by name in the four colonies. In that year a loan of 2461 rubles was distributed for the re-establishment of the fields.



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